Analysis: YouTube shoppable ads are great but be careful of over-reliance

Just last week, YouTube doubled down on the eCommerce scene with its new shoppable ad format that enables sellers to include browsable products beneath the ad, in order to drive traffic to the product pages. Brands need to sync their Google Merchant Centre feed to their video ads and thereafter, they can visually expand their call-to-action button with the best-sellers they want to feature to drive traffic to product pages. The announcement comes a month after Facebook introduced Facebook Shops for small business owners and global brands to create a single online store for customers. Along with this, Facebook also rolled out Instagram Shop and live shopping which will be integrated with Facebook Shops, to help consumers discover products they are interested in and make purchasing easier. 

Rakuten Advertising's senior VP Asia Pacific, Stuart McLennan lauded Google's move saying it offers "an even better shopping solution" within the YouTube platform, allowing users to tap into all stages of the shopping journey from brand awareness through to conversion.

YouTube viewers are heavily invested in the content and the new storefront allows viewers to browse products without navigating away from the video. 

For McLennan, this gives the platform an added unique selling point as brands now have the opportunity to connect with the viewer on another level. "YouTube has fantastic penetration in Southeast Asia, driving 20% of all video consumption around the world. With screen time to an all-time high due to lockdown laws, and physical distancing guidance, I would encourage advertisers to experiment with this, particularly those with an existing Google Merchant Centre," he said. 

Adding on to the conversation, Pomelo Fashion's AVP of performance marketing, Augustin du Mesnildot, said Pomelo is definitely looking to utilise the new YouTube shoppable ad format while continuing to experiment and conduct testing to understand the sales lift. He added that the new offering will make it easier for advertisers to manage their YouTube campaign placements, allowing them to manage this within one campaign instead of across several. Overall, this should improve campaign management and make the feature more accessible to a wider range of advertisers, he added.

"I think this capability will be great for eCommerce websites in general, including Pomelo. Video action campaigns will also help marketing teams across various companies drive efficiency and save time with their campaign management," he said.

However, one concern du Mesnildot has centres around the issue of transparency. He explained that with the increase of new automated campaigns, it can become increasingly difficult to get adequate data insights for each campaign.

Also speaking on the need for data visibility was Ogilvy's vice president, customer engagement and commerce for Southeast Asia, Jeremy Webb, who said the advertising world is starting to mimic China, where an entire campaign could be based within Alibaba or Tencent's vast set of apps and platforms.  

"With Facebook Shops, Instagram Shop-able Ads, advertising within Lazada and Shopee, end-to-end marketing solutions on apps such as Grab, there is less need to break up a customer journey across different ecosystems," he explained. Webb added that everything from upper-funnel awareness and brand building, right through to purchase and repurchase communication, are all possible within one ecosystem. 

There will be a temptation to stay within one ecosystem for certain campaigns, which may sometimes make sense; but at the same time, over reliance on one ecosystem can cause problems.

Problems could include preventing the advertiser from collecting data and from completing the sale in more profitable retail channels, Webb added. The concern of walled gardens is shared by most marketers too. According to the 2019 Digital Trends report done by Adobe and Econsultancy, more than 44% of agency respondents working in advertising described walled audience data silos such as Facebook and Google as one of the three biggest challenges. 

The report, which surveyed a total of 12,815 respondents took part in the survey across Asia, US, EMEA, and ANZ said this is their clients' main problems ahead of other high profile challenges such as viewability (20%) and ad fraud (17%). 

Meanwhile in 2018, research commissioned by adtech company Sizmek found that 66% of the 500 brand marketers surveyed in Europe and the US believe that walled gardens are a major barrier to improving first-party data. Close to two thirds (65%) of marketers also agreed that they do not provide enough insight to make comparisons with other channels or partners. According to the research, without having access to cross-site performance data, brands are over exposing their audiences and reducing the ROI from their media spend.

Another area Webb highlighted is around the effects of pure brand advertising. He explained that before marketers get excited about YouTube's latest offering, they must be careful not to dilute or devalue the effects of pure brand advertising. "If the objective is to build awareness or consideration through storytelling, then advertisers must be careful not to let sales calls to action distract from that," he said.

"Similarly, just because we can encourage consumers to buy upon seeing an ad, does not mean that the ad should be measured only by how many people make that direct purchase. The value of that film, if it struck an emotional chord with the viewer, will be realised a lot later, in any number of online and offline retail channels," Webb said.

Meanwhile, Rakuten Advertising's McLennan said that Google has addressed the need for transparency by including YouTube in its Google Ads attribution report. This allows advertisers to track conversions from multiple touchpoints in the Google ecosystem.

"However, advertisers relinquish campaign optimisation control to Google’s machine learning capabilities in automated campaigns. This means Google will shift budget to wherever their algorithm deems fit to generate returns without revealing the logic behind the decisions. Although advertisers will be able to access transparent conversion reporting through Google, their optimisation strategy will still remain behind the wall," he said.

Other areas to look out for and test quickly

As the line between physical and digital commerce continues to blur, YouTube's new shoppable ad format is a formidable example of Google riding this lucrative wave, as the brand's digital presence fast becomes its primary storefronts, said Sunil Naryani, VP, commercial and partnerships, Amplifi APAC, Dentsu Aegis Network (DAN). He added that app install ads from YouTube have gained traction amongst performance and gaming clients and as such, it will be interesting to see if this new shoppable ad format can have the same impact on retail clients who are testing similar formats from Facebook, Instagram, and even Snap.

That said, it is equally important for marketers to ensure that their Google Merchant Centre is properly managed and the product feeds are correctly optimised so the right product imagery is served to the right target audience for further action, said Naryani.

DTC brands need to hence "adopt early and test often".

Naryani added that a similar way to improve the YouTube campaign performance is to test using different collections of product imagery for sale campaigns or variations in form fields for lead generation campaigns. This can be done while also evaluating overall channel performance of YouTube viz-a-viz other digital channels utilising similar formats. 

"That said, other digital platforms have a slight lead with similar shoppable ad formats, so the ultimate proof of success will be in the actual campaign performance as brand’s emphasis on business outcomes surge," he explained.

Similarly, Wavemaker's senior eCommerce director, Asia Pacific, Benjamin Yeo, said while the new shoppable ad format concept allows good product image showcasing to stand out, YouTube should ensure that the catalogues can be easily uploaded and have different ad formats available for display, such as a carousel or a collection. Including an automated product pulldown would also ease user friction.

"If product identification can be [elevated], it will be good. This is because customers might find it strenuous to identify the products which look similar, such as smartphones. Overall, it has the right concept to lessen the clicks. It need to ensure clicking on the image leads directly to a product detail page to add to cart and check out," he explained.

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